To a certain demographic - 30 going on 12 - the first few seconds after launching Introversion's XBLA strategy game will be the moment that they lose their collective maturity and start alternating between sobbing and laughing gleefully.
The faux-loading screen is the first of many stylistic nods to classic computer systems, like the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, that birthed the gaming industry back in the 1980s. For the older gamer, Darwinia+ is a decades-skipping DeLorean, a release that has been remoulded to period perfection.
If you see the '80s as a number rather than a memory you'll find it less affecting, but you'll still be charmed by the basic level colour palette and simplistic polygon count. It's a cool, retro style that manages to keep the screens simple and clean, even when it's overflowing with enemies, explosions and screaming Darwinians. Darwinia isn't exactly sedate.
You're charged with saving an internet-based ecosystem that's been overrun with viruses. The various levels in the world are overflowing with red parasitic death-dealers, from 2D snake forms to massive mountain-hugging spiders. They're consuming the Darwinians - the little green sprites that float through the world - and you're there to clean out the infection and save the populace.
This is done using the usual RTS practices: building up units, taking over control towers and chalking up various sub-missions within the level proper. But there's a greater degree of hands-on here than the likes of Command & Conquer.
While the floating Engineers collect, travel, and reprogram whatever you point them towards, a lot of time is spent controlling the metallic titans of the Squad: gun-toting hulks that work together to obliterate the Virii infection with guns and grenades.
Therefore, you dangle between militaristic commanding and engaging the overwhelming odds first-hand. On the surface, the move, shoot, repeat dynamic of the Squads might seem shallow. But Introversion pulls off a very clever feat - it makes you care about a centimetre-high, two-dimensional polygon person.
There are parallels to '90s puzzle classic Lemmings here. The Darwinians might not have complex enough bodies to display waving limbs or tortured facial expressions, but when they're blown apart or eaten, their death wails will horrify you. There's no score assigned to saving each and every one - but you simply become quite protective of the little guys, rushing to protect as many as possible as you finish off mission objectives.
While there are niggling issues with the speed and smoothness of the camera - a common problem in any PC-to-console transfer - and the lack of a button prompt for a quick overview of the map is annoying, they're ultimately small concerns.
When you've got a title that stylistically rolls Rez into Halo Wars and doubles up the gameplay with both single and multiplayer games Darwinia+ ends up being an engaging title that's one of the better console strategy games around. Not bad for just over a tenner.
Electronica genocide is RTS addiction
- Lovely visual hook
- Two games in one
- Darkly atmospheric
- Darwinians the new Lemmings
- Controls could be tightened